Ankara watchful on oil accords with Iraq

29 November 2013 – Turkish Weekly – Turkey does not want to create any problems for Baghdad in oil deals with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) as transparency will be key in talks to deepen energy cooperation between Turkey and Iraqi Kurds, a Turkish official told Hürriyet Daily News.Turkey will continue energy cooperation discussions with the KRG, the official said, stressing that Ankara was not “conducting any hidden work.”

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu conveyed this principle to Iraqi leaders during a recent visit to Baghdad, the official said, underlining that Ankara was continuing to stick to this principle. “Our position has not changed since before or after the visit of [KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan] Barzani to Turkey,” he added.

During the talks in Baghdad, Davutoğlu said Turkey was willing to conduct “energy cooperation with all of Iraq,” the official said, adding that both parties agreed to hold talks between the energy ministers of the two countries.

Energy Minister Taner Yıldız will soon pay a visit to Baghdad, but the schedule is not clear yet, another official from the ministry told the Daily News. Meanwhile, Yıldız was invited to an international energy conference in Arbil, but he will not be able to participate due to alternate plans, according to the official.

The Kurdistan-Iraq Oil & Gas Conference 2013 is in its third year and will open on Dec. 1. Yıldız was unable to attend last year’s conference due to Baghdad’s last-minute refusal to allow his plane to fly directly from Istanbul to Arbil.

The Turkish government is determined to continue comprehensive energy cooperation with the KRG, but Ankara is also taking care not to harm bilateral ties with the Iraqi government amid recent rapprochement after a tense period of relations due to several issues, including energy cooperation plans between Iraqi Kurds and Turkey. The Iraqi Constitution does not prevent Turkish companies from making deals in the autonomous region, the official said. Barzani held three hours of talks with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Yıldız on Nov. 27 on comprehensive new energy deals between Ankara and the KRG.

The absence of any agreement or contract during a visit by the Iraqi Kurdish regional prime minister to Ankara did not stop Baghdad from hastily issuing a blunt warning over the dangers of any step that would pave the way for the opening of a new oil export pipeline from its autonomous Kurdish region, which is outside central government control.

After two years of tension between the two states, Iraq warned that the opening of a new oil export pipeline from the KRG would seriously harm relations. “The Iraqi government informed the Turkish ambassador in Baghdad of its strong opposition to signing the pipeline deal with the KRG,” Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s spokesman, Ali Mussawi, told Agence France-Presse.

If such a deal is signed, “bilateral relations between Baghdad and Ankara will be damaged severely,” Mussawi said. His comments came after Barzani said ahead of talks in Ankara that the pipeline could open as early as next month.Al-Maliki also met with Turkish Ambassador to Baghdad Faruk Kaymakçı yesterday. Meanwhile, the United States reiterated that Washington “doesn’t support oil exports from any part of Iraq without the approval of the Iraqi federal government.” “We continue to urge the federal government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government to reach a constitutional solution, and that has consistently been our position. And it also has not changed,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters Nov. 27.